As the existential threat to a democracy posed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine marches inexorably on, Ukraine’s heroic president asked three things of the freedom-loving nations of the world.
Two of those — a ban on Russian oil and gas imports and more planes and weaponry — should be dispatched without hesitation, without internal political rancor, and with the kind of international unanimity only a human crisis of this magnitude can generate.
President Volodymyr Zelensky in a Zoom call with US lawmakers Saturday pleaded for additional help from the United States and its European allies. His third request, a no-fly zone to protect Ukrainian airspace, has repeatedly been rejected by the White House and NATO allies as tantamount to going to war with Russia. But as the consequences of Russian aggression grow ever more apparent, Zelensky’s case for an international ban on the purchase of Russian oil and gas and his pleas for planes so that at least Ukraine can improve its own air defenses have suddenly acquired some traction.
Zelensky told some 300 members of Congress that cutting off oil and gas purchases could be “even more powerful than SWIFT,” a reference to the international bank communication system from which some Russian banks have now been banned.
In fact, days before that call, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced a bill to prohibit the importation of Russian crude oil and petroleum products.
“We have a moral moment right now to cut off the money pipeline that is funding the missiles and the tanks and the soldiers that are destroying Ukrainian homes and squashing dissent in Russia,” Markey said at a Saturday news conference.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had already signed on to the idea last week, and by Sunday the notion of a ban on both oil and natural gas imports from Russia had attracted bipartisan support even as the White House was looking to get its allies on board and find ways to ease already rising prices. Though nominally independent, Russian oil and gas companies are under the thumb of the Kremlin.
The United States imports between 7 and 10 percent of its oil from Russia, a cut that could be eased at least temporarily by the release of oil from the nation’s strategic reserves, already ordered by President Biden.
And as the price of oil rises — hitting $130 a barrel for a time on Monday — so do the financial resources available to President Vladimir Putin of Russia to run his war machine. Europe and the United States combined pay an estimated $1 billion a day for Russian oil and gas, according to an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times co-authored by Simon Johnson, a professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, and Oleg Ustenko, an economic adviser to Zelensky. The authors called Russian oil and gas “the moral equivalent of ‘blood diamonds.’ ”
Zelensky, in a video address Monday, called for a boycott of Russian imports, including oil, saying, “It can be called an embargo, or it can be just morality.”
The Ukrainian president’s other big “ask” of the United States and Europe was for the means to fight this war that has been devastating the country’s people and destroying its cities. If world leaders would not support a no-fly zone, then he pleaded with them to supply “airplanes so that we can protect ourselves.”
Now that the world has seen in real time the consequences of Russian aggression, the case has been made even more compelling.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Sunday that the United States is exploring ways in which it could supply Ukraine with fighter jets now owned by such neighboring NATO nations as Poland, which has Russian-made MiGs on hand that Ukrainian pilots already know how to fly. Those jets could be delivered in relatively short order, and the United States could then “back-fill” Poland’s defensive fleet with newer models. A win-win for the alliance.
An even broader approach has been suggested in a call for a new lend-lease program similar to the one Franklin D. Roosevelt implemented to help Europe long before the United States entered World War II. In an article in Foreign Affairs, Alexander Vindman, former director of European affairs at the National Security Council, suggested that the plan would give Ukraine’s forces “a fighting chance.”
Such a program would allow the United States and NATO allies “to loan or give aid to Ukraine at little or no cost,” and could include medium and long-range air defense systems and anti-tank weapons beyond the Javelins already being supplied.
Speed, of course, is the essential part. Every day more Ukrainian women and children cross the border into Poland — the lucky ones, that is, the ones with the strength to get there, not the millions left to face what in some cities has become near constant Russian bombardment.
The United States and its allies should be aiding a democratic state under attack, and halting the flow of petrodollars to Putin’s coffers is a concrete step we can take to help the Ukrainian people continue the fight for their freedom. Their bravery has been an inspiration to the free world. It should not go unnoticed or unrewarded by the United States and the international community.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.